Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wilderness Area & Wildlife Experience

What is a sky island?  It is an isolated mountain range rising above the surrounding grassland sea.  The meadows have the usual desert cactus but the mesquite trees begin to fill with sycamore, juniper and oak trees.  Not your everyday kind of vista when you are in the Arizona desert.  Further  up in elevation are the cypress, pine and fir woodlands which are normal for this part of the Southwest wilderness known as The Chiricahua National Monument.
CIMG4989 After leaving Hot Well Dunes we drove 18 miles south to Bowie to spend the night at Mountain View RV Park so that we could dump, take on water and top off our propane supply before we venture down the road.  The next morning we headed west on I-10 to Wilcox going SE for about 40 miles to see some big rocks.
The Chiricahua National Monument was established in 1924 to preserve and protect the pinnacles, called “standing up rocks”; what the ancient Chiricahua Apache called them.  The layers of gray rock called rhyolite began 27 million years ago when ash erupted from the Turkey Creek Volcano creating joints and cracks in the rock.  Years or weathering by ice and water erosion enlarged the cracks with weaker material being washed away - leaving the variety of spires, balanced rocks and other shapes that you see within the park’s 11,985 acres of wilderness.   Geologists estimate that the Turkey Creek eruption was 1,000 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens in Washington.  Pretty amazing when you think of it.
In 1934 the Civilian Conversation Corps – referred to as the CCC (also nicknamed the Tree Army) – enlisted young men who were hit hard by the Great Depression to help with road access throughout this area.  The amount of rock that was moved to carve out these roads was unbelievable.  Bonita Canyon Drive reaches a mighty 6,870 ft. to the summit.

DSC03298 CIMG4991 We did had some challenges with our 38 ft. motorhome as nothing longer than 29 feet is allowed on the eight mile scenic drive to the summit at Massai Point.

A lack of proper signage and insufficient parking at the Visitor’s Center had us quickly improvise and park in the area set up for people with horses and their horse trailers.  That worked for us!  We unhooked the jeep and ventured to the top before returning for some lunch, and then once again hooked up the jeep to investigate where we were going to spend the night.

DSC03276 In the distance, you can see the head of Cochise laying down.

It is written that Cochise was a powerful leader of a band of Chiricahua Apache, probably born around 1810.  He was generous to his people, courageous in battle and had a commanding presence.  He died in 1874 of natural causes.

This peach and green house – named Faraway Ranch - was the home of Swedish immigrants Neil & Emma Erickson who settled here in 1888.  The homestead turned into a guest ranch from 1917 until 1973 for visitors to come and relax, and horseback in the hills.

This family lived on the land, shaped the land, and lobbied for the area’s protection.  Our thanks to these individuals for their love of nature and preserving it for generations to come. 

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Wilderness. . .wildlife. . .they kind of go hand and hand in this part of the country.  Finding a place to stay for the night was our next priority after leaving the rock pinnacles in Chiricahua country.  With our paper directions in hand from our Day’s End boon docking information we didn’t have too far to travel to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area where we could park free for three days.  This 1,500 acre wildlife parcel is owned by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and is touted as the best viewing site in Arizona - and major roost site - for the sandhill cranes; 20,000+ at the height of the crane-watching season (October-March 15).  What we did see was enough to give you goose bumps, as we witnessed the crane numbers changing each day as more of them took flight to new destinations.

Located within the Chihuahuan Desert in the area known as Sulphur Springs Valley, this grassland habitat consists of extensive open-water areas, marshlands and mudflats.  Quite the site to attract the birds throughout the winter, spring and fall seasons.  Walking trails, interpretive signs and viewing decks with scopes added to our enjoyment during our stay here.

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DSC03345 CIMG5004 We parked in the designated area for limited camping, with the Mule Mountains in the background.

New friends from Montana, Bob and Marie, were heading out that next day but we did have the chance to chat with them.  Very nice people.  Marie loves to paint and came to this area to be “inspired”, as she says.

What’s pretty amazing is the daily agenda of the sandhill cranes during this time.  They spend the night standing in the shallow waters to evade predators and then fly out each morning to feed and socialize in the surrounding area.  They return in the afternoon and evening after grazing on corn available in harvested grain field.


In addition to sandhill cranes, this area’s waters attracts many types of birds:  Whiskered Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owls, Northern Shoveler, Greater Roadrunner, Cooper’s Hawk, Vermillion Flycatcher and Cinnamon Teal to name a few.  If you can identify them from these next pictures, you get a gold star!

We also had to keep our eyes open for the four footed mammals using these grasslands as a source of food, water and shelter.  It was so awesome to spot the coyotes and desert cottontail but missed the bobcat who came out in the early morning. 

DSC03340 These are bat houses.  We did not see any bats during this visit.  There are suppose to be 11 species that are likely to visit at any one time.  The little brown bat can eat up to 1,200 mosquitos in an hour.  Way to go little guy!

Another interesting fact is that bats send out as many as 500 pulses (high-pitched sounds) per second that they use to navigate and to track moving objects such as the mosquitos or moths.  This is called echolocation (bat sonar) which is effective up to a nine-foot radius and can detect objects as small as a human hair.  Bats fly with their mouths  open to echolocate. 

Each stop brings something entirely new for us.   It’s time to take a walk into the past as we now travel to the areas of Tombstone and Bisbee, Arizona.

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”  ~ John Muir, Naturalist and Author

HugsRed rose

Friday, March 20, 2015

Safford, Arizona

Our travels from Superior took us in the direction to the small community of Safford located in the southeast portion of the state where, “Life the way it ought to be”, is their slogan.  Nestled along the Gila River and set against the magnificent shadow of Mt. Graham, our Jeep trips have been plentiful.  What fun we’ve had exploring areas in and around Safford.  We set up home on BLM land in the desert about 7 miles outside of Safford/Solomon on Haekel Road.  A quiet spot to park with only 3 other campers earlier during the week that slowly became only us as people moved on.  Temps were definitely cooler in the evenings when the winds picked up but our four days were quite memorable in this location.  California Poppies are abound everywhere!

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Safford is famous for the ever popular Salsa Trail for Mexican food enthusiasts (and of course, salsa lovers).  The trail begins on a route that connects the communities within a 40-mile radius of Safford.  We however elected to check out the off road travels with our Jeep and save the spicy foods for others!  When we arrived in Safford we stopped at the Chamber of Commerce and came away with quite an array of information of all the things to do and see in this area.  There is definitely a lot to pick from so we hope that you enjoy the ones that we chose to share.

Our adventures begin . . . 


Mt. Graham

Majestic in every sense of the word.  It is the highest peak in the Pinaleno Mountain range, rising to 10,720 feet in elevation.  There are a variety of outdoor recreational options for visitors and guests have the chance to take a motor tour along Swift Trail (Highway 366) that begins at the base of the mountain, traveling approximately 35 miles up and ending at the top of Mt. Graham.  We did such a tour with the Jeep up and up and a little past the 9,000 feet in elevation sign where the road is closed for the winter.  We were told that it does open in April/May and is home to where Riggs Lake resides for excellent trout fishing.  Let me tell you that the ride up – and the ride down – contained the most switchbacks that Jeff has ever driven on.  For Kay it was a first all-around.  What a trip.  What an experience!


Gila Box Riparian National Conversation Area

This area has a total of 23,000 acres within the NCA but most of the roads are very primitive and not easily traveled by our 38’ motorhome.  We knew this upfront so we were prepared.  We traveled north and crossed the bridge at the Gila River and then drove seven miles and then another 2.5 miles before arriving at the west entrance information kiosk for the Gila Box Riparian NCA.  Many scenic roads kept calling us so it was indeed an exciting day in the Jeep.  This area is maintained jointly by the BLM and Graham and Greenlee counties.   We had to look up the meaning of riparian to really understand this ecosystems that consists of narrow strips of land that line the borders of a water source. 

The Gila River section, known as the Gila Box, consists of patchy mesquite woodlands, mature cottonwood trees, sandy beaches and grand buff-colored cliffs.  Recreational opportunities for fishing, hiking, birding, rafting and more are abundant in the early summer.  We were captivated by the scenery and the closeness of water.  It was a very beautiful place.


Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area

Once the shores of a prehistoric lake, these 2,000 acres of rolling sand dunes are open to the public for a small fee and are an OHV hot spot for sand rails, ATV, motorbikes and four-wheel drive vehicles.  We were here last year for the hot tubs and were so glad to be back to enjoy them once again.  The story is that these mineral hot springs were the results of a happy drilling accident in 1928 when oil prospectors broke into a geothermal well 1,920 feet below the surface.   The artesian well, now aided by a solar pump, produces water that reaches 106 degrees Fahrenheit.  The hot mineral water is great for soaking especially relieving the pain of arthritis which feels great for Jeff.  Kay on the other hand just soaks her feet!


Rock Hounding

Our rock hounding efforts on Haekel Road was awesome.  For those that aren’t familiar with the meaning of rock hounding, it is the activity of searching for and collecting rocks, fossils, or minerals.   This is something that we love to do.   On this one particular day, Jeff had noticed that on the main road into where we were camped there was a spot where he could see that someone was moving around some of the dirt and rock with a shovel.  We love our rocks – and since adding the one called gold to our wish list – we are always on the lookout for unique finds.  So, with a shovel and rake, we were very lucky to find quite a treasure of Apache Tears in and around the edge of the road where we were camped.  Jeff knew what they were immediately since we had heard of them last year from his cousin who lives in Apache Junction, Arizona.

They are a type of Black Obsidian Stone found in the south-western USA and Mexico.

The meaning of their name comes from an American Indian legend.  It was said that certain members of this tribe were pursued by the Cavalry... and although they fought bravely they were outnumbered.   Rather than be captured they jumped off the cliff to their deaths. The distraught women of the tribe cried dark tears of grief... which fell to the earth, and formed into these dark strangely shaped stones, which are believed to be their tears formed into reality so people will always remember what happened.

Maybe it is their strange out-of-shape appearance... that makes you comfortable with them.  They are volcanic stones that occur naturally in odd shapes.  

They will be travelling home to the rock tumbler where we will polish them up before giving them as gifts to family and friends.  



Good Friends Come to Visit

Our friends from Texas, Chip and Daisy,  made it a point to see us in Safford before they headed to the Escapee RV Rally in Tucson.  We met them at Sunrise Village & RV Resort for three nights where we cooked awesome food, enjoyed our happy hour time slots and indulged in quality time conversation (as well as groceries, laundry. . .those things that you need to play catch up on).  We did have a pool and hot tub but unfortunately, they weren’t available until May.  Darn!   Kay’s first attempt at making a pecan pie with fresh pecans we purchased from Ft. Bowie Vineyard & Orchard Products in Bowie wasn’t exactly what she expected.  The picture didn’t quite look like the pie when it came out of the oven, but everyone still liked the taste.  Some things you just have to put up with.   Culinary talents from the motorhome and the truck camper all came together as we shared meal preparation over the three days.  Chip and Kay are already thinking of what meals they will prepare at the next annual get-together.  The pressure is on!



Meeting New Friends 

Traveling gives you this opportunity.  So it came to pass that we had a neighbor camped next to us at Hot Well Dunes.  Her name is Kathy and she travels solo with her girls, Jessie & Mittens.  They are from Jefferson, Oregon and live in a very cute 1997 Lazy Daze Class C motorhome.  Kathy is 74 years young and was more than willing to share her pictures of Alaska and the Baja – places that we would love to experience at some point in our travels.  It was fun to share stories with each other over our evening meals, happy hours and the coziness of evening campfires that we had.  We hope to stay in touch with this grand lady!

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You wouldn’t think that a simple visit to the local Laundromat would be so memorable, but you do meet people in the strangest places.  It was laundry day for us in Safford as we started the process of getting things in order before hitting the open road that we met Gene and Vesta.  What a unique couple.  They are both retired from the copper mine in the community of Morenci, which is still active and boasts one of the largest open-pit mines in North America – 96 square miles. Can you believe it?   We were able to see some pictures of this mine and it is pretty unbelievable.   Gene and Vesta have their “dream home” nestled in a valley outside of Loma Linda.  Jeff suggested that we Jeep trip it out to their place to further continue this most awesome friendship that had just begun.  When you meet people that are genuine, you know it and it just seems to click just right.  This was definitely the case with Gene and Vesta.  Their home is so unique and it all comes together with Vesta’s many flowers, fruit trees, chickens, doves, 7 dogs, one turtle, one lizard and two birds. 

CIMG4982 The driveway to their home.  Pretty remote, isn’t it?

Because it was a cloudy day – with light rain – we had a pretty dirty Jeep so we drove straight to Safford to the car wash to take off at least a layer of mud.  If it would have rained any harder to fill the washes that we had to drive through, we would have had a sleep-over at their house.


CIMG4979 CIMG4978 Their welcoming entrance to their home.


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"Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart."  — Eleanor Roosevelt       


Can you see the double rainbow?  We are lucky!

HugsRed rose